It was like a bolt of lightning hit me when I stepped into the shower today. I froze. I don’t know how long it lasted, but I was in my own dream space, realizing that if my Aunt Judy dies, or when she dies, that generation of Calcari’s, the one above me, is gone. The last blood connection next to and above my dad, his parents and great aunts and uncles, most cousins that we can still identify on a first-name basis, all gone. All the family history, lore, musings, tidbits, recipes, portals to other worlds, continents and times, cremated into the atmosphere or buried into the earth. Who will remember our stories.

Have I taken the time to ask Judy the things, like I thought I did with my dad, only to realize the second after he breathed his last breath, that there would always be more questions? Forever be more questions? No way possible to transmit a lifetime of living between us. Would she – the forever young, master dodger of anything serious, always playing practical jokes on everyone, telling stories of when she dumped over the outhouse on the nuns before deciding herself to join the convent in a radical act of defiance at age 18 – would she even give me 30 seconds of a serious answer? Probably not. Which brings me sorrow while I also smile.

The picture I received via text today of Judy in the hospital made me do a double-take. I thought it was my dad, their likeness striking as they aged.

These recipes, from grandma Calcari and Aunt Dell, making rabbit stew, a red gravy, served piping hot over polenta. Pillows of gnocchi. Trays of lasagnas. Pheasant and other birds in there for good measure too.

I will never know those like they dad and Judy knew those.

I try and think though about what I do know, what I do remember. Because it’s those memories of my dad and his family that are likely going to be the only ones my daughter has of this lineage. My memories. And I will work so hard to tell them all to her, savoring the details, the visuals in my mind’s eye, the ways things smelled or the laughter in a full house of more than 20 people for all the holidays, the temperature getting so hot that we’d open up windows even in the middle of an Illinois winter. I hope that somehow, they become her memories. Because they are a source of joy.

I can see it. I was coming off some surgery or treatment, and my parents were visiting to help, cooking, cleaning, and driving me to and from doctors. But we tried to do at least one thing that got us out of the house while they were here. Or maybe it was a separate time they visited, us wanting them to have a true vacation that didn’t center around caregiving for me. But not wanting to push with my dad’s treatments, what would cause him pain and discomfort along his spine or his femur. Either way, we went to the farm where we get our weekly fruits and vegetables, up in Winters, CA outside of the wind and fog of the coast and into the dry Sacramento valley. It was a farm day, the harvesting of strawberries being the prime event for all the families there. We could pick the berries if we wanted – eating as we went, buckets in hand stained red and sticky with sugar, the berries already starting to macerate in their own juices. But mostly, we sat in lawn chairs between the rows dripping with strawberries and listened to the band, enjoying our picnic and the squeals of little kids high on strawberries and fresh air.

The smell of strawberries on the ride home is so present, their powerful fragrance making its way from the trunk into the car.

We didn’t do anything fancy with them. No tortes or crumbles or cheesecakes. No whipped frosting or shortcakes. No secret recipe – passed down from one to the next – was up my dad’s sleeve for this bounty.

We decided though that what would be best is a good old fashioned strawberry milkshake with fresh strawberries, a splash of vanilla and hand-churned ice cream. Heaven.

I can see us, sitting around the dining table, a milkshake in each of our hands, sipping through paper straws. A lot of mmm noises.

Can you see it too?

The simple elegance of a spring strawberry milkshake.

This is what I do know, what I do remember. Our daughter will too.

The Total Guide To Growing Buckets Full of Strawberries
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